“Like you’re riding a train at night across some vast plain, and you catch a glimpse of a tiny light in a window of a farmhouse. In an instant it’s sucked back into the darkness behind and vanishes. But if you close your eyes, that point of light stays with you, just barely for a few moments.”

The humidity of the last few days has prompted an early hibernation for me. I started out with doors and windows opened then raced to close them and turn the AC on. Today and the next few days will be in the 80’s, warm for us, so I’ll hunker down and enjoy the cool air.

On with the travelog!

First, I apologize for the oversight so I’ll introduce the other half of the we I keep using. It was my roommate Francie, who had traveled only once out of the country on a guided tour of Italy with a bunch of high school kids, so this was, for her, a huge risk. She was the best of companions.

In Cuzco, we went to the market and bought some fruit and some coca leaves. We had read that chewing them allows the Peruvians to work at high altitudes without getting overly fatigued or hungry. We figured they’d help so we gave chewing them a try. The leaves weren’t worth the chew. We found out later they are mixed with something or better consumed in tea.

In those days, there was no tourist train to Aguas Calientes, the stop nearest the road to Machu Picchu, so we got up early and took the local. It was filled with Peruvians with their produce and reminded me of travel in Ghana. All that was missing were the goats and chickens. It was an amazing train ride. We traveled on rail so twisty we could see the front of the train from the back. I hung my head out the windows many times to see the train and the view along the way. We passed through Pisac and Ollantaytambo in the valley of the Incas and could see terraces up the mountains, places where the Incas planted their crops including potatoes and quinoa. After about four hours on the train, we arrived at the station where we had to buy bus tickets to get to the ruins. The road to the ruins was an amazing back and forth twist of a road, a zigzag switchback allowing travel up the steep hill.

All the pictures I see of the site now are filled with people roaming around. I didn’t find that. There were few people so I could take pictures without anyone in them. Machu Picchu is easily recognized as it sits between two mountains. The first view I saw of the ruins was from the hill which overlooks all of Machu Picchu. I don’t think I could move for a bit, astonished as I was by the sight. Finally I headed into the ruins where I walked around for hours. I went up to the sundial whose corners each point to a different direction. I took pictures through windows of the same view the Incas must have seen. I walked up and down the terraces. I took picture after picture of the ruins, the mountains and the ruins across from us on another mountain. I sat and just looked all around me. I think I forgot to breathe.

On the way down to the train, small boys raced the busses which had to negotiate the twisty road. The boys beat us to the bottom. We boarded the last train and headed back to Cuzco where we’d spend one more day exploring other ruins including an Incan foundation which still runs with sweet cold water. Then we took the train to Puno, a regular train back then. The ride was magnificent with the snow-capped Andes beside us for hours, the stops at small stations where we saw Peruvians in bright colors sitting in the sun, and in my mind’s eye, I still see the small children dressed in colorful clothes, red shawls are what I remember the best, who waved at us as the train passed. We always waved back. The second part of the trip was over the Andean plains, an amazing contrast from the mountains but no less beautiful. There we saw llamas, herds of llamas, shepherded by boys who followed behind them.

The trip to Puno took about 11 hours. We found a hotel and then wandered. Puno is right on the shores of Lake Titicaca. When I was a kid, that name always made us giggle when the nun said it. It was as if she were swearing somehow. We bought dinner from a stall along the street, and I bought a small, woven woolen wall decoration from another stall. The cloth was green and on it were appliquéd people who looked like all the Peruvians we had seen. One of them was playing Andean pipes. I still have it.

The next morning we went to the lake and booked passage on a hydrofoil guided tour which would stop at three islands on the lake then take us across to the Bolivian border where we’d board a bus to La Paz.

The journey continues!

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12 Comments on ““Like you’re riding a train at night across some vast plain, and you catch a glimpse of a tiny light in a window of a farmhouse. In an instant it’s sucked back into the darkness behind and vanishes. But if you close your eyes, that point of light stays with you, just barely for a few moments.””

  1. Birgit Says:

    Amazing trip !!!

    This Peru 2011 flickr album might be a nice addition to your post.
    It includes Lima, Cuzco, Machu Picchu and other inca ruins, Lake Titicaca and Island, the Andes and Peruvians in bright colors.

    Machu Picchu 1976(!) :

    I also remember Titicaca as a magic and funny name and still have an old schoolbook photo with a reed boat on the lake on my mind.

  2. Kat Says:

    The second set of pictures reminded me of my slides, a bit washed in color over time and from an Instamatic, an inexpensive, small camera.

    There was a thatched roof on one of the houses which I saw when I was there. It was an imagining of what the roofs might have looked like in Incan times. There a couple of great pictures of the well I mentioned.

    The first set was filled all the colors I remember. I never got so bold as to take similar close ups of people. When I lived in Ghana, I came to think of it as intrusive, and that was still with me during the SA trip, a scant 6 years after I had come back from Africa. Now, though, I’d be snapping away as I did last summer.

    These were great slide shows and the second, especially, reminded me of my time in Peru.


  3. olof1 Says:

    The day started out cool and nice even if it got a bit turbulent at one time 🙂 We had a close encounter with the wild life today 🙂 But suddenly the temperature rose to above 80 and now the rain has started to fall, I’m pretty sure we’ll get thunder soon.

    What an amazing trip! I’ve seen photographs from that ride up to Machu Picchu and I’ve always wanted to go by that train 🙂 But sometimes I wonder if it would be best never to go there because of how I’ve imagined how it will look and those imaginations are over 40 years old 🙂

    Have a great day!

    • Kat Says:

      It is really humid here. I have the AC on. When I went on the deck, I couldn’t believe how hot it is outside. Being in the cool I forget the heat.

      It will look the same but be far more crowded with people. The best thing would be to stay overnight there then be up and around before the people come on the trains.

  4. Zoey & Me Says:

    Well, add me to the list. I never knew of a Lake or place called Titicaca. But I laughed along with the best of them. Very interesting post today. You got me hook.

    • Kat Says:

      You should have seen a class of 11 year olds trying to laugh or snicker without getting caught!

  5. flyboybob Says:

    It’s Thursday, August 2nd and what do you think the weather was today? If you can’t guess, check out yesterday’s post. HOT, HOT and HOT 🙁 I only go outside to get from the car to the office and back to my air conditioned car.

    I am really enjoying your tour of SA and can’t wait to hear about La Paz. Many years ago I had an opportunity to fly an airplane down to Bolivia. I trained a Bolivian pilot in the airplane that they were purchasing in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. They wanted me to accompany the owner and the pilot on the trip but it was illegal for me to act as a crew member without a Bolivian pilot license once they de registered the US N number. The airplane salesman tried to entice me to go down to Bolivia on the promise of having sex with lots of under age girls. I didn’t have any interest in having sex with under age girls. I also turned them down because they wanted to fly the airplane into a high altitude airport tremendously overloaded with their TVs, Stereos and VCRs they bought in Miami and were probably smuggling into the country.

    Thanks again for your great descriptions.

    • Kat Says:

      I would have guessed Hot and Hot and Hotter! I’m sorry that’s all you seem to get. I hope there is an end to that horrific weather.

      We’ll arrive in La Paz tomorrow after our trip on the lake. I have a great story about that airport as we flew out of it to Paraguay rather than going overland.

      I hope I don’t disappoint!

      • flyboybob Says:

        Well, it’s August in Texas which mean hot and dry. The temperature will probably start to moderate around Labor Day. I can’t wait to hear about La Paz. Your posts only disappoint on Wednesdays because you usually don’t write. I always enjoy reading your blog and I am especially enjoying reading about your SA adventures.

  6. Kat Says:

    Thanks! I really enjoy remembering the trip, and it’s fun to write about it.

  7. Bill S. Says:

    It is amazing that you remember this trip in such detail.. Did you write about it after returning so you could remember? My memory isn’t that good.

    Last week we had a college reunion in Franconia NH, and one of the classmates had taught math in the three Manchester NH high schools for 35 years (now retired). During her tenure she went on 1-year sabbaticals, at half pay, with an NEA tour group, once to China/Japan, and once to India/Kabul. She had some good stories.

    • Bill,
      I have an extraordinary memory for places. When a friend needed directions to Deaconness Hospital, I could even tell her how many lights on Melnea Cass. I close my eyes and see places. I remember the walk to my riad in Marrakech building by building but that was five years or so ago so the memory is still fresh.

      This trip was so amazing I remember walking down streets and what they looked like, but I do wish this memory worked as well when remembering people’s faces and names.

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